Podcast #021: Emily Morris – Can distributed hydropower provide clean local energy 24/7 without expensive dams?

Emily Morris of Emrgy, distributed hydro power

Solar may be the most widely used approach for distributed, renewable electricity generation but emerging new technologies go well beyond solar and offer entirely new ways to generate clean, local energy.

Host Bill Nussey talks with Emily Morris, the founder, and CEO of Emrgy, about a radical new approach to hydropower that skips building expensive infrastructure like dams, provides a continuous source of clean local electricity and opens up new revenue streams for customers. It’s called distributed hydro and it’s here now

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Host Bill Nussey and Emily Morris of Emrgy in the recording studio
Emily Morris and Freeing Energy host, Bill Nussey

Emily Morris of Emrgy in the recording studio

Machine transcription

Bill: (00:49)
All right, welcome to the freeing energy community for today’s podcast. We are going to expand everything you thought you knew about local energy today because typically the freeing energy world here is focused on solar and sometimes wind. But today we’re going to take a deep dive into, well water, Pun intended, specifically into a very small scale hydro electric generation, which is known in the industry trade as micro-hydro. And our guest today is Emily Morris, the CEO of energy, one of the national leaders in this very cool and growing space. And Emily and her company may not be on the radar of a lot of the solar companies, uh, and the battery companies that, uh, are often parts of our community, but our company needs to be because the opportunities here are much more interesting, much bigger and happening faster than I think a lot of folks realize.

Bill: (01:38)
So hydro the dams is sort of the iconic power plants that we think about. They are the quiet often forgotten part of the clean energy story. They make up about 7% of the u s electricity, but because largely for environmental reasons in the United States, there’s no more appetite to build these gigantic reservoirs that sit behind the dams. And so pretty much, there’s not a lot, if any, additional large-scale dams going on. And so a lot of people I think incorrectly have written off hydro and we’re going to hear all about today what the new opportunities are in hydro. And we love it here to freeing energy cause it’s all about local energy. It’s small scale stuff that can be built by companies and organizations and communities for their own energy needs. So let me formally welcome Emily Morris here to join us today. Hi Val. Thank you so much for having me here today.

Bill: (02:24)
Well we’re really happy. Thank you for making the time. You have been on an incredible journey and I think our listeners are going to love hearing about this today, about five years you’ve started with an idea and you turn that into a serious company with some great traction. So I think the story of micro-hydro and why that matters, your personal story, how you got there, and then the things you’ve learned along the way for our audience. Because a lot of the folks that listen in or entrepreneurs like you, let’s just start with your background. So how did you come into this? You know, what was your inspiration early on? How did, did you know you wanted to do micro-hydro and you’re six years old sitting at the dinner table or how did that happen? Great question.

Emily: (03:00)
So while I didn’t necessarily dream about micro-hydro as a young child, I did always know that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and sometimes I think it might be in your blood a little bit. I’ve always been very entrepreneurially minded, always the one with the big sale idea or selling my stuffed animals on the front lawn, seeing who might, you know, bite at the cleanest looking stuffed animal there might be, um, to sell to the neighbors. And then, you know, as I grew in my career, various projects or for profit, nonprofit sort of adventures growing to what ultimately became a passion and a life’s work in, in energy. So I was working in my career for an engineering firm that completed a lot of government sponsored research efforts on new technology development energies. Core technology actually started there and I worked with a team of engineers in a prototyping and vetting a distributed hydro-power technology that was at the time being funded by the u s office of Naval Research.

Emily: (04:13)
And I became really personally inspired by what a technology could do for an energy hungry world that had the same attributes as wind and solar in that you could bring a product style that was standardized, highly manufacturable, highly replicable, scalable by module and quantity of modules, but bring that into a medium that was more continuous than the sun and a more predictable than the wind and more controllable than many of the other resources out there. And so at the time I was watching solar and wind growing exponentially, I was seeing it going up on rooftops. And as I dove into some of the data I saw that being backed in the projections that we’re estimating and still are estimating that by 2020 to 90% of all new renewable energy growth is going to be wind and solar. So the opportunity to combine the product style that’s very, very enabling for solar and wind to scale quickly with a medium like water was a perfect opportunity to bring those two things together.

Emily: (05:30)
And we were already doing this. And so around the middle of 2014, I approached the company about actually acquiring that intellectual property from them and they had never done something like that before and neither had I. And I went and found a local attorney here in Atlanta to figure out how to navigate that. By middle of 2015 that was finished and I had this little entity, uh, that was, uh, a side business in power. Don’t know really many people that would consider that as a side business. But I continue to do what I knew best, which was finding and obtaining funding, typically federal funding for technology development purposes. So I’m in late 2015, the Department of energy awarded now energy, a million and a quarter dollars to continue the product development and, uh, be able to really understand the market, applicability of it. And that also allowed me to bring on a team come over full time, things like that.

Emily: (06:29)
And so in 2016 we raised a bit of venture capital to come alongside that to really explore customer development as we were funded federal aid to do the product development. And over the span of 1617 and 18 we engaged in three pilots, one here in with the city of Atlanta, one with southern company, and our biggest installation today, the first full scale hydro-power array in the United States with Denver water. And now we are growing in scale. So we just signed a partnership with GE who will now manufacture these turbines for us and our customers as well as they will also be selling the product in four countries outside the u s

Bill: (07:13)
wow. That’s an amazing story. And I’ve known you for a couple of years now and you make it look incredibly easy. I’m guessing it’s not as easy as you make it sound. But just to put this in perspective, you know, the other day I was sitting around in the weekend kind of just contemplating the universe and I thought to myself, you know what? I should invent a turbine hydrokinetic energy system utilizing cyclo medial magnetic gears. And sure enough I looked on the internet and there was already a patent filed for by you. There is a lot of really unique science to what you guys are doing and it’s not just a sort of sticking up round thing in the water that spins. And so throughout the interview today I want to sort of explore what’s involved with doing this well because a lot of people have tried, there’s some serious science here, obviously incredible business acumen who have created this kind of momentum. We were talking a moment ago about, um, you guys have raised some venture capital money and you’ve gotten some government money. Can you talk a little bit about sort of how’s that come together and where are you guys sitting right now?

Emily: (08:05)
Sure. Yeah. We’ve been really fortunate at MRG to be surrounded by a number of stakeholders that have helped us to get where we are today. Whether that’s through financial support, technical support or you know, market support to have the city of Atlanta and the city of Denver essentially buy product from us sight unseen in an industrial capacity in their municipal water systems. It is a really unique and progressive thing to do on behalf of a governmental authority. And so those specific instances are landmarks in our history that have helped us to grow. And by being able to not only obtain that interest and that engagement, but also to be able to deliver on them and to be able to have demonstrated that this product not only works but can solve problems for them that attracts, you know, financial support as well as additional market support.

Emily: (09:03)
And so, you know, when I first received the federal validation in that they were willing to award us the earliest capital that helped bring on early angel investors as well as impact investors that want to see a vision like distributed hydro-power come to fruition. Many of our earliest vendors are people that really care about the environment, really care about access to energy for all and see that we’ve been building our cities and towns around flowing water since the beginning of time. And we should be using those resources, not just for the everyday things that we think about but also for energy as well. And so we were fortunate that time to grow to sort of found a, an initial base of supporters. And then, uh, more recently we closed our first institutional round of funding in the fourth quarter of 2018 in that round that brought in funds that are interested in being on the leading edge of water and energy and the nexus of those two.

Emily: (10:12)
We’re now really able to approach this to grow it as a profitable business and be able to expand our presence in the market and prove not just that this is a technical and engineering accomplishment, but also that this is not only a viable alternative, but also a viable compliment to wind and solar and the growth that they’re experiencing. The type of energy that’s provided by hydro is highly complimentary to these other options and when we think about bringing access to energy all across the world in a localized way, the mix of the different types of energy will be absolutely critical to the sustainability of that and affordability of it.

Bill: (10:58)
I learned something interesting last week on that topic. I met one of the leaders of Los Angeles, a water and light, the department that oversees all those utilities in the city of Los Angeles, which is its own a municipal electric company and they are as aggressive at adopting solar as any. It’s California and it’s Los Angeles, so you’d not, not surprising, but what I did find surprising was the way that they counter balance the intermittency of solar and wind is with hydro. They have a very large dam nearby that they control and so they let the water flow when the wind dies down on the Sundays down. So it was another great example of the complementarity of all of these renewable resources. A lot of people don’t know that in many places, most places in added states that when the sun is weakest, particularly at night, the wind is strongest. So when you start to combine all of these renewable resources together intelligently instead of piecemeal, you actually start to reduce the problems of intermittency and enters nothing more stable than hydro. And you’ve educated me that hydro is not only a an existing way to do that, but it’s quite likely one of the best ways we can do it going forward.

Emily: (12:03)
Yeah. You know, the element that hydro brings to the renewable energy mix is the controllability part. So while as you mentioned, you know, you had solar very strong in one part of the day, wind very strong in another part of the day. The hydro can be controlled to make up for lax in either of those two, you know, we call it the world’s natural battery, right? So you know, you have the, the water resource that’s there and you can release it or you can utilize it to your advantage. And so in fact we’ve had a number of ips reach out to us at or contemplating large PV storage projects are projects of all sizes and utilizing hydro to offset some of the chemical storage. Perhaps not all, but some of it allows for a much more balanced approach to micro grids into multi-generation strategy grids.

Bill: (12:58)
Let’s dial back a little bit. I don’t know if you’re much of a history buff on this stuff and we may test your knowledge a little bit here, but small hydro has a very unique role in American and world history because we used to put water turbans did ground corn and so he goes all the way back and it’s the same idea we’ve just writ large now, but in the early grids of the United States, which was some of the earliest grids in the world, hydro played a distinct role. Is that something that you uh, have ever paid any attention to?

Emily: (13:24)
Yeah, in fact, it’s part of our pitch every time we talk with new potential, either customers or investors is, is highlighting the integral role that hydro has played in industrial development over many centuries now. And the power of water, harnessing it for good is something that people have been able to do very well for quite some time obviously in the last century, um, or a couple of centuries. We’ve also developed other ways to harness energy as well, but hydro remains the backbone of a number of grids all across the world. You know, as you mentioned earlier, the development of new hydro projects is extremely rare in this stage being in the 21st century in the u s and in many countries around the world due to not just, you know, here in the u s where we may see measured the opposition being environmental and regulatory and challenges with getting permits and having custom designs and um, and construction.

Emily: (14:32)
But also, you know, globally these projects are extremely capital intensive. Being able to bring online a new large scale hydro facility is something that easily takes a decade or more from ideation to commissioning with the rise of solar and wind being cost competitive and being scaled to be directly competing with those hydroprojects. Why would you go through a decade or more of custom design and hydrology study and watershed study, especially when you know what the impacts of building a new reservoir and flooding a certain area may be. Environmentally, it makes far more sense to look at a renewable project like solar or wind if you’re trying to achieve that or it used to, you know, what we are doing here at MSG is, you know, while you could define it as micro hydro, we really don’t use that word very often because micro-hydro still has the connotation that we’re taking these big dams and scaling them down to something that’s more manageable and in fact we’re not scaling anything that you see at a big dam to anything you see that’s much smaller.

Emily: (15:50)
In fact, what we’re doing is we’re basically taking that energy source and we’re dividing it amongst a number of modules and distributing it out in a very low impact way. And so we don’t have any centralized facilities similar to what you would imagine with a micro-hydro or a low head or a run of river, a alternative. We’re actually building a distributed module similar to wind or solar, but just using water as the medium as opposed to the sauna or the wind. We placed these in series along canals, roughly every 50 to 150 feet depending on the slope of the channel and we position them in arrays just like solar wind. So when you think about, you know, whether it’s the 15,000 miles of water infrastructure that the federal government owns and operates around the western US 15,000, 15,000 miles or I was um, I just had a colleague in Mexico last week where they have 46,000 kilometers of irrigation infrastructure in Mexico alone or you know, in Asia looking at India or Pakistan, well over 50,000 kilometers of irrigation infrastructure there where this is a perfect application.

Bill: (17:11)
One of the questions that comes up all the time about solar is how much solar would it take to power of the United States? It’s always an interesting esoteric question because it’s, I don’t think any kind of energy source is going to dominate all the rest. But yeah, that’s stunning amount of miles. You just described a in kilometers does that enough to make a dent in the energy footprint of a country like the u s

Emily: (17:33)
yeah, it is. Of course, you know, there’s all kinds of analyses you can do. We’ve looked at, you know, California specifically with their famous aqueduct system that brings water, you know, from northern California down to the La in utilizing just the inherent energy that’s in that system to power. You know, La County, which is one of the, I think, top seven largest counties in the country and bigger than several states put together. And so yeah, it really can scale. And interestingly, when you talk about required real estate, these canals are already existing real estate that are marked for no other purpose than for moving water. And so one of the unique selling points that our customers really engage with is the idea that this is real estate that they can monetize in a new way. So often these infrastructure owners, whether they’re irrigation districts, municipalities, water utilities, they make money from selling the water. But if ea can also harvest energy as that water flows, that same real estate has a brand new revenue stream in generating power as well. And often these entities, they may not have square miles of undeveloped land for solar or rooftops, but they may have miles on end of irrigation or water conveyance infrastructure. So being able to provide that even in a potentially hybrid way of using hydro and solar in this, this real estate asset is something that we’ve explored to quite a great extent.

Speaker 5: (19:13)

Emily: (19:16)
now for your question, and you’ll need a lot of doting answer this one. So how many pieces of bread can you toast with one megawatt of electricity? If you want to generate a megawatt hour of electricity to toast bread, you have a bunch of options from fossil fuels to clean sustainable sources like solar and wind. For example, you’d have to burn 960 pounds of coal to generate one megawatt of electricity and it takes 1.5 million gallons of water using a hydro dam while a wind turbine only needs 30 minutes of spin to generate one megawatt of electricity. So what did you get? Well, with that one megawatt of electricity, you could toast 89,000 slices of bread. That’s a lot of dough. You can learn more about what it takes to generate a megawatt of electricity by visiting freeing Just search for megawatt. Now back to more with bill and Emily,

Bill: (20:21)
one of the things that really surprised me in my research into clean energy was the role that water plays beyond even just generation. A lot of people don’t realize that um, water is essential to most, uh, thermal power plants, nuclear and coal to basically cool them down. There’s so much extra heat that the plants would melt down if they didn’t run water through it. So the thermal plants of the United States have coal and nuclear plants have more water going through them than other water use in the United States actually far exceeding agriculture. Now most of that water just goes through and comes out again warmer. But the amount of water involved in electricity generation of all kinds is massive.

Emily: (20:59)
Yeah. And in addition to coal and nuclear, but also in oil and gas. You know for every one barrel of oil that is produced, there is eight barrels of water that’s produced in that process. And so while today we’re focused very strictly on surface water infrastructure because that is a an access to market point of entry where there’s limited permitting, limited regulation and we can grow in adopting and customers adopting our product very quickly. You know, when you think about other industrial uses for distributed hydropower solution in other complimentary energy sectors like oil and gas or fossil, they could even bring some renewable into that process as well.

Bill: (21:46)
Water is actually the biggest batteries so a lot of people don’t know there’s such a thing as pumped hydro.

Emily: (21:53)
Yeah, palm tie dro is a fabulous way to utilize this. You know Earth’s natural battery that I mentioned before, pumped hydro is a scheme in which you utilize pumps to move water from a lower elevation to a higher elevation when energy pricing is low and then when energy pricing is high and you can sell and make money off of the power generation, you run the the higher elevation to the lower elevation through a hydroelectric dam and powerhouse. And so these are the epitome of a controllable resource that can be utilized for not just grid stability and resiliency, but also profitability and revenue generation when you’re able to leverage the energy markets that way

Bill: (22:44)
and pumped hydro far exceeds in terms of storage ability in use today, it’s been around for decades far exceeds all the batteries deployed so far in the u s and other countries.

Emily: (22:53)
Absolutely. And that, you know, the challenge is that those projects are still very difficult to permit construct and and are extremely capital intensive as well. But we have many successful examples of how that can be utilized to achieve the storage requirements without a chemical solution. [inaudible] projects can work in that realm of dispatchability in a somewhat similar way, obviously on a distributed scale, right, so a much lower power densities. But for example, our installation in Denver, Colorado is a municipal canal that connects two reservoirs, wanted a higher elevation and one at a lower elevation and as the water runs from one reservoir to the other, we generate power in that process. The municipality of Denver controls the levels of those two reservoirs and today the primary emphasis controlling them is for balancing how much water comes into the municipality for water treatment. But over time as we start rethinking water conveyance in a mindset for energy generation as well, you could utilize this very similarly to a pumped hydro facility where you specifically change levels in reservoirs and specifically release from the higher elevation at a time when the profitability of generating that energy is the highest.

Bill: (24:13)
And just to put that in simple terms, the pricing of energy or electricity is usually based on things like during the middle of the hot days, a solar lowers the price of electricity because it’s so inexpensive. And so it’s a perfect match for the intermittency of solar and wind. Let’s dive in a little deeply. I’m going to try to use as many water metaphors as I can today. Dive a little deeply and talk about your pipeline. No, just kidding. But um, that’s a damn good one. This is really rich. Um, tell me about what a, an energy hydro device looks like and obviously there’s some science involved. Uh, that’s not something that I would have thought of on a Saturday afternoon despite my comment earlier. What makes it unique and how does it work?

Emily: (24:58)
Sure. So energy’s technology, it strikes a balance between the elegance of a simple design that you can see with your eyes and understand the basic workings of the technology with very complex fluid dynamics that optimize how it harvest the kinetic energy out of the water, how it converts it to electrical, and how we ultimately optimize the overall energy profile over a long fluid distance. So when you think about what the technology actually looks like, you can imagine a precast concrete box culvert, right? Something that you have potentially seen in transportation infrastructure or an energy. Essentially it looks like an open concrete box. That box is about the size of a large SUV, think you know, a hammer. And that box sits right down on the floor of a waterway, whether it’s the river bed or a canal bottom, it sits right down on the floor.

Emily: (25:58)
We don’t use any external anchoring. Uh, we don’t change the channel at all. We don’t do any diversions or civil infrastructure on site. The longer I have guys in hardhats, the more my project costs goes up. So these are designed to arrive on trucks and be placed right into channels. That is the physical installation of such. Inside that box there’s two vertical access turbines that as water flows through the box are activated by the fluid movement of that water and rotate that rotational motion is converted into electrical, uh, very similar to wind and other styles of kinetic generation. And then it’s then run and aggregated amongst the various machines to a centralized interconnection point, either at your distribution grid, at your pumping station or at at a local load. It sounds very, very simple, right? How could that possibly be unique? We’ve been building, you know, water wheels for centuries and this is essentially a modernized version of one of those where energy is intellectual property really comes in is in two ways.

Emily: (27:07)
One on the module level and also on the array level. So, you know, looking at the modules, we’ve been able to optimize and maximize the amount of energy generation from a single instream turbine compared to anything that’s been deployed on the market in the past. The way we do that is in multiple ways. It’s proprietary design from the shape of the blades to the aspect ratios of the turbines to the proximity to one another. Because the twin system actually hydrodynamically interacts with each other. And you know the, actually there’s a good bit of innovation in our concrete structure as well. Uh, we call it our sort of pen stock without the pen stock, so to speak, in that in a traditional hydropower facility, the pen stock is what performs the flow engineering of placing water perfectly over the turbine blade as it generates. And so we have a unique shape to our concrete box that essentially accelerates water flow up to 50% higher than what the baseline velocity of the channel is as it goes over the turbine blade.

Emily: (28:11)
So we’re able to manipulate the flow, so to speak, to achieve higher power density out of the waterway, check out our website to see some videos of such. But the other area where we add a significant amount of intellectual property is around how we optimize a raise over the course of a fluid. So you can imagine when you’ve driven past a wind farm or if you know much about wind farms, you can tell that they’re positioned relative to one another to be able to optimize the fluid as it travels through. In our case, the fluid is all connected and constrained and so we’re actually having to optimize how to generate energy out of one fluid and do it on multiple occasions in series along the stream while maintaining the integrity of that stream. So many of the prospects that we talk to who own these water infrastructure networks, they’ll say, well, you know, if I don’t have water that’s arriving at this location by this time, then you know, I risk not having drinking water for the citizens or I risk not having the appropriate agricultural water.

Emily: (29:15)
And so we have to very delicately balance how many times or how many modules that you can place in how much energy can be collected while balancing the hydraulic impact of that. And actually theU s bureau of reclamation partnered with us on our installation in Denver where they actually installed their own instrumentation, upstream and downstream of each of our modules in the array to be able to independently gather water levels and current profiles for how our array integrated into this existing resource. And there’s a lot of intellectual property and knowledge about how you can balance a power generating system with the intention, the operational profile, the canal, and in fact, um, that builds into much of our control systems for how you can use the different machines to compliment one another and either high flow or low flow regimes to maximize the overall output across an array.

Emily: (30:14)
So there’s a good bit of geeky science behind it, but at the end of the day, when I go to speak with the owner of water infrastructure, you don’t know how often someone watches our video or learns about what we do and they say, hey, you know, that was my idea a long time ago. I’ve been watching this water run. I know there’s energy in it. This is a simple way to do it. And they’re excited about what we have to offer. And so, you know, really at the end of the day, all the science and the engineering really is in an effort to keep things as simple as possible and deploy these as quickly as possible to start making measurable impact.

Bill: (30:52)
Very cool. The entire clean energy movement began as a focus on the environment. And what got me involved with it and got me excited about is it’s turned into a fantastic business proposition. So not only do we have a chance to make a difference in the next a hundred generations of our children, but we can actually build real businesses around this. And to that end, we do spend at the free energy project, a lot of emphasis and research on the economics. Can you talk a little bit about where Emory’s products sit today, where you think they could sit, where micro-hydro could go in terms of being cost competitive with some of the other traditional and emerging new energy sources?

Emily: (31:28)
Yeah, absolutely. So of course the metric by which we’re all measured is in our levelized cost of energy, right? So in terms of LCA, we of course there are a number of specific components that are used in that calculation. From a capital cost perspective, the systems are comparatively a bit more expensive than solar wind. Given the submersible elements and the number of rotating components from an operations and maintenance perspective, we do have to inspect and clean these devices. They are living in a a riverine or marine style environment with debris. Yet we do expect that given this we will be able to create very long life systems. So we estimate a lifetime of 30 years, although given the average age of a hydropower dam in the u s being over 80 wow. It is well understood how to maintain rotating equipment and water and we expect these to live for a very long time. So given that total investment cost over that 30 year life between the capital and operating against, you know what is arguably the biggest competitive advantage of distributed hydro-power in the to achieve very high capacity factors given the continuity of these water flows. We’re targeting LCO [inaudible] between three and 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Of course, we’re still on a trajectory to reach that, but we’re very encouraged about the number of sites we’re already seeing where the opportunity for high capacity factors leading to very compelling pricing is imminent.

Bill: (33:03)
That’s a really compelling price for those people that don’t live and breathe this LCO competitive numbers. That’s a, if you build a new nuclear power plant today, it’s going to be 11 12 cents a kilowatt hour. So that also the capacity factors is a really big deal. You said earlier that you can reach up to 90% on a distributed hydro, solar and wind done by comparison, 2025 30% maybe coal plants are only 50 55% so only nuclear plants operating above 90% capacity factors can compete with what you’re describing and hydro dams. So it’s a very, very competitive dimension. And I always like to quote Michael Liebreich, who is the founder of Bloomberg new energy, and he said even 2 cents a kilowatt hour isn’t motivation enough to bring the sun out at night. So the fact that you, that your products are 24, seven, three 65, it cannot be overstated. And uh, obviously, uh, comparison, apples, apples and LCL, we completely misses the value of having it be as the industry calls it. Dispatchable.

Emily: (33:56)
Exactly. And that’s an area that not only speaks right to the heart of who we are at MRG but also, you know, really where we see this technology fitting into the overall mix is providing that accessibility, that dispatchability that availability when you need it most.

Bill: (34:15)
Let’s change gears and spend just a minute on entrepreneurship. I have had the privilege of meeting so many energy tech or I like to call it power tech startups with division to do what you’re doing to change the world and bring this new technology to a cleaner, better energy future. And I think of our ask a lot of them, like what would be your dream thing if you could have one thing, they would probably say something like a fantastic partnership with one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in the world, like GE. So when you told me a couple of weeks ago that you had put this uh, this deal together with General Electric, I think it took me a minute to pull my jaw off the floor. You’ve done something a lot of entrepreneurs would love to do, which is crafted partnership with one of the biggest, most influential companies in energy space. What did you learn from that? What can you share with others that maybe they could help them be successful in similar ways?

Emily: (35:03)
Absolutely. It was clear to me from the beginning that for us to be able to create the kind of impact that distributed hydro can have on the world, we couldn’t do it alone and we absolutely needed partners to be able to help us to do that. And so as soon as we had this first demonstration of viability in a commercially operating setting, like with Denver water, I pivoted to look at how can I align energy to be able to scale this more quickly. I knew that going end user to end user to end user was never going to get us there. It took me about two years from the day of meeting Denver water to the day of first delivery. So even that was, I think most would consider lightning fast. But we can’t do that over and over again or else I’m going to be gray haired before the end of this.

Emily: (35:52)
But you know, meeting GE actually happened a bit by happenstance. I spoke to a women’s group of MBAs about my experience being an entrepreneur in it. It resonated with one of the, one of the women in the room and she went home and over the dinner table told her husband who works for GE and he got, you know, interested in this. And with a number of meetings in between, I was able to meet with ges, new CEO of hydro-power. Um, as of the end of last year. I heard someone say recently that success in entrepreneurship is a bit like success in fashion. The timing has to be everything. You have to have something that really resonates and aligns with the current trend. And you know, the truth is, is that both GE and MRG are highly, highly aligned in what we want to achieve. You know, for energy. Being able to utilize a partner like GE to scale into areas where I can hardly find them on a map and we don’t have the manufacturing reach to be able to serve those places is highly, highly valuable to us. And Similarly, GE is aware more than most of anyone that the hydro-power infrastructure globally is aging. And that, you know, to be able to develop new resources requires new thinking. You can’t just scale things down anymore. You have to radically re-imagine how you’re going to create new generation resources. And so what we deliver and what they’re looking for also aligns perfectly together. And so while of course, figuring out the mechanics of a partnership and, you know, how each would benefit in certain ways, we’re required legal expertise beyond my knowledge. But, um,

Bill: (37:40)
so you actually had to have a lawyer or too involved with this just a little bit.

Emily: (37:43)
A little bit. Yeah. Um, and, and meanwhile, I had my first baby, uh, about three weeks before. Um, we signed this partnership officially and so Julie, thank you. Thank you. So, um, there was a lot of uh, legal back and forth, even texting from the hospital trying to make sure that this all got ironed out, but we’re really excited about what the future looks like for Ammar g being able to now expand in partnership with GE, the mutual interest is really what facilitated it. At the end of the day, if ges interests weren’t already in this space, then it likely wouldn’t have happened.

Bill: (38:25)
But I want to echo back something that you sort of said, but I want to call it out because it’s impressive you were out there telling the story and I think you are a great storyteller. You have a company that’s got great backstory with a very definable mission and you’re out there telling the story to people and you take time to talk to that group. You didn’t have to. And I think there’s a lot of serendipity involved and as a great storyteller with a great mission and somebody who’s willing to commit some time, and thank you for sharing that with us today. Two good things start to happen. It’s the, it’s the randomness of getting out there often enough. So yeah.

Emily: (38:56)
Yeah, that’s a great point. And many of the fortuitous things that I’ve been able to achieve along the way have been serendipitous of being in the right place at the right time, sharing the story with people who can really embrace it and so you can’t underestimate the importance of that for an entrepreneur.

Bill: (39:17)
Their willingness to tell these stories and tell them well as you do is going to be a continued part of your success. I’m honored to be here, so thank you. Thank you. All right. For the final round we ask everyone of the folks we have the privilege of talking with a couple of quick questions to sort of level set a broad perspective on the clean energy transition that we’re all part of. So let me just jump right into the questions. You go to a party, you’re talking to folks in other industries. What did they find most surprising about your business? Where clean energy most broadly?

Emily: (39:47)
You know, typically I tell people at parties I’m a hairdresser or something like that because when I tell them I’m in distributed hydro-power they typically look at me with crossed eyes. But I think that um, when we put it in the simplest terms for people that all the energy they need is potentially, you know, flowing right by their house or right under their feet and all they have to do is tap into it. They don’t have to actually build anything new. That really surprises people about energy’s business. Most people don’t think of water as an energy source, you know, when they just see it as they’re driving down the road or, or otherwise. And so reframing that perspective, I now have people that call me in earlier this morning, I got a, an email from someone traveling in Bucharest that said, what do you think of this canal? And reframing people to look at this infrastructure and think about how we power our world has been surprising I think for them. But also for me to learn about,

Bill: (40:46)
I have to say I’m among the crew that you converted. And so I was not looking at micro-hydro when I met you a couple of years ago. You got me excited about it and it’s great to have it culminate today in this conversation. All right, second question. If you could wave a magic wand in any area in the clean energy world, including yours or more broadly, what single thing would you change?

Emily: (41:05)
I think what I would change would be to make regulation and pricing and incentives more technology agnostic. I think being the sole hydro preacher in a world full of solar and wind experts makes it really, really challenging. And you know the hydro industry, I think they would probably just faint if they heard me say this, but I’ve always said we need to have the same lobbyists that are working in solar. Also working in hydro and really, you know, working for the good of us all, not necessarily for one over the other. And a funny story is that in California we were looking at a specific program where wind was receiving a 19 cent tariff and hydro was receiving more like a 3 cent tariff. And we said, well, you know what? We’re now a hydrotech, or sorry, a wind technology, but it looks like a vertical access wind turbine. You could put it in a wind environment, but we’re just sticking it underwater because really there shouldn’t be, I realize why they have different tariffs, but I would change the different emphasis on technologies for benefit in certain ways.

Bill: (42:13)
Number three, in the next five years, what do you think the single largest change in the way we generate electricity will be?

Emily: (42:19)
There’s a couple of issues I have with this question. One is that as you mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, I’ve been in this business for five years now and while the world is changing fast, I think some of the biggest changes we’re going to see may happen in a bit of a longer timeframe than five years. I hope not. But the other thing is that really what energy’s looking at today and what we focus on is, is in this innovation in generation specifically, but I think some of the biggest changes still yet to come are in how we deliver that power and how we pay for it and so you know where in my vision in a today energy is it distributed hydro generation company, but you know as we grow to leave a legacy of not just refining and revolutionizing generation, but also in power delivery and power payment to where we can actually sort of democratize this full process for broader energy access. I think that there are some really unique concepts out there that could disrupt that space and I’d love to be a part of that too.

Bill: (43:24)
Final question I get asked all the time, what can I do as an individual to make a difference in the transition to clean energy? How do you answer that question?

Emily: (43:33)
I typically tell people to pick one thing and be really good at that one thing. You know, if recycling is your thing, then just focus on being the best at that that you can. If it’s, you know, lowering your overall consumption at home by modifying your HVAC patterns or your lighting patterns or things like that, do that and be really good at it. You know, a lot of people don’t realize how energy consuming and carbon emitting transportation is. So I say, okay, you know, if you want to really make a difference, do Skypes or webinars instead of flying all over the country, um, that would be a big way to reduce your impact and make a difference. But I think that there’s way too much emphasis on trying to do all of these things and more, um, you know, I don’t want to be a criminal if I use a plastic straw or something like that, knowing what went into it. And so I’d say, you know, pick something that works the integrates well in your lifestyle and make that thing and that way you

Emily: (44:32)
can actually excel at, at watch your progress and then hopefully leave this world a little better than when you got here. Well, that is profound and inspiring and a perfect cap to a really fun, super informative discussion today. So yeah, it was fun. Thank you again for making the time. Emily, thank you so much for having me. We look forward to continuing the conversation and following what I’m sure was going to be some amazing progress for you and Bremmer g



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